Review Summary: This album is an absolute classic of the sixties. They were the first ever super group and together they had a huge impact on the music scene. Excellent musicianship and beautiful harmonies make this album a must buy.1 of 1 thought this review was well written
CSN (Crosby, Stills and Nash) were formed back in late 1968. David Crosby had been chucked out of the Byrds in late 1967, and soon after in early 1968 Stephen Stills' band Buffalo Springfield disintegrated due to personal issues. It was around this point that Stills and Crosby sparked up a friendship. They started jamming together and realised they were making some pretty cool music. They decided to showcase their stuff at a party in July 1968; present at this shindig was Graham Nash. Stills and Crosby played 'You Don't Have to Cry' to their presumably stoned friends. Once they'd finished playing, Nash asked them to start from the top and then joined in with the harmonies. It clicked. The three of them knew they had something special and soon after Nash told his band 'the Hollies' they could *** off and jumped into the boat with David and Stephen. And thus CSN were born.
The album 'Crosby, Stills and Nash' was of course their debut and was released in 1969 - it is an absolute gem of the folk rock genre. Musically, it was mostly composed by Stills. However the importance of Crosby and Nash should not be downplayed. They both composed certain songs themselves and co-wrote some with Stephen. Plus their voices were integral to the sound of the band.
The album kicks off with 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes' which really shows off Stills' skills as a songwriter. The song encompasses very Beatles' sounding electric and bass guitar work coupled with Beatles style harmonies. But the track then develops into a more laid back approach, laying down a chilled bass line and showcasing some dexterous finger picking on the acoustic. Most notably, in the last minute of the song an organ and some heavenly vocal harmonies suddenly kick in from Nash and Crosby 'doo doo-ing' in typical 60's fashion. This combines with the bass and acoustic to give a celebratory Latin groove, with Stills delivering some soulful Spanish vocals over the top. The song is a classic throughout and demonstrates the versatility of the band but the last minute is simply genius – it never fails to cheer me up when I give it a listen.
From here on in the album firmly establishes itself as a sixties classic. They provide us with some enjoyable rock songs such as the psychedelic tinged ‘Marrakesh Express’ and the Hendrix influenced (the lead guitar parts are played in reverse) ‘Pre-Road Downs’. This style then develops with the bluesy ‘Long Time Gone’ and the protest song against Vietnam ‘Wooden Ships’ – a beautiful song, punctuated with an absolutely rocking chorus. In Wooden Ships Stills reveals his talent for the blues, giving us some beautiful licks during the verses and then revealing some underlying aggression in the chorus; blasting out some bad ass guitar work. Lyrically, the song tells the story of two survivors in a post-apocalyptic world surveying the damage done. The track was written at the height of the cold war and encapsulates the feeling of an entire nation.
The album also stays true to its folk roots with entertaining folk rock songs ‘49 Bye-Byes’ and ‘You Don’t Have to Cry’. As well as rocking out, CSN were able to deliver vintage straight folk songs like ‘Lady of the Island’ and ‘Helplessly Hoping’. Their aptitude at writing folk songs is illustrated magnificently in my favourite song on the album ‘Guinnevere.’ Written by Crosby, it is a love song for Joni Mitchell and is a masterpiece. It consists of two acoustics and the voices of Crosby, Stills and Nash. One of the acoustics has a bizarre tuning, and together the guitars lay down a hypnotic melody. Then in come the harmonies and they are incredible. The singing is flawless and very controlled which all adds to the hypnotic feel the song exudes. Virtually the whole song is sung together by all three members of the band bar two small solo’s by Crosby which he delivers impeccably. For me, Guinnevere is one of the best folk songs ever written.
So now to explain my rating. If I were to judge this album solely on its musicianship, it would score a 4. Instrumentally speaking, ‘Pre-Road Downs’ and ‘Lady of the Island’ are quite disappointing. However the album gets a 4.5 because CSN’s vocal harmonies are unparalleled. Stills provides the gritty soul of the south with his deep, hoarse voice whereas Nash delivers a higher pitched more subtle feel and linking the two together is Crosby with his wonderfully versatile, throaty vocals . This combination meant CSN were able to master all styles of harmonies, from the poppy Beatles sound to the loose, rough sound of ‘the Band’. In short, Crosby, Stills and Nash is a quality album which had a huge impact on the music scene in the sixties. They showed that blues, folk, jazz (a jazzy organ is featured in many songs) and rock could be combined in a coherent sound. They were true innovators and this album has not lost any of its potency over 40 years on.
[This is my first review so constructive criticism would be appreciated]